When 13-year-old Favour’s parents asked her to go home and bathe her siblings on October 9, 2021, they did not envisage what was coming. The family had just finished having dinner at their mother’s provision store.
After Favour left the shop in Ezimuno, one of the communities in Udenu Local government in Enugu state, south of Nigeria, her parents remembered that they did not give her a bag of sachet water to take home.
“I asked her elder brother, Victor, to carry the water home for us,” Favour’s father, Ikechukwu Eze, 49 said. “The shop is just two poles away from our house.”
Victor did not find Favour when he got home, but he saw her walking into the compound as he walked back to the store. He (Victor) asked her where she had been, but she kept mute and looked sad.
Victor returned to the shop and told his mother, Anthonia, how Favour came into the compound, looking sad and refusing to say a word; immediately, she went home and asked Favour what had happened. Still, she kept quiet.
Irked by the silence, she persuaded Favour until she opened up; one of their neighbours, Cosmos Nwaoba, stopped her at the gate and asked her into his room so he could send her on an errand. After she refused, Nwaoba dragged her into his house and raped her.
Child sexual rape remains a nightmare.
Child sexual abuse remains a concern across the world. While six out of every ten children experience some form of violence in Nigeria, one in four girls and ten per cent of boys have been victims of sexual violence, according to a UNICEF report on violence against children.
The magnitude of the problem remains difficult to determine because of the culture of silence around the issue of child sexual abuse, especially in the African setting where sexual matters are not discussed in public. Sadly, fewer than five out of 100 children who reported violence against them received any support. However,
Non-disclosure of abuse by the victims, arising from fear of further harm from the perpetrator or of being blamed, feelings of shame, and cultural inhibitions also help to mask the actual burden of Child sexual abuse.
According to Chukwudi Unah, Esq, a legal practitioner with Charles Anthony (Lawyers) LLP, the most significant bottleneck with rape prosecution is from weak investigations and Ineffectual prosecution of offenders by the police, which leaves behind weak evidence.
While child sexual abuse appears to be more common in females than males, it most often occurs in settings the child is familiar with, and most abusers are known to the children before the onset of the abuse, with circumstances associated with such abuse including ignorance, poverty, poor education, and unstable home environments.
After Eze learnt about what had happened to his daughter, he was enraged. His wife was too.
“I met Nwaoba’s wife at her shop, and together we went home and confronted Nwaoba, but he denied it, so we asked Favour to repeat what she had said, and she did,” Eze explained.
The next day, he took his daughter to Bishop Shanahan, a private hospital in Nsukka, for a checkup. They also got medication to help ease Favour’s pain.
When they returned home, he reported what had happened to the Police Area Command in Obollo, and they asked him to let them know when Nwaoba returned, but he managed to escape.
“Four days after I reported, he came back, and the police got him arrested, but they released him and told me that he escaped from custody,” a distraught Eze said.
Now, Nwaoba walks free while Favour lives with the trauma. Her story is not peculiar. Several teenage girls who have been victims of rape have not got the justice they need. Some have contracted sexually transmitted infections, become pregnant, developed anti-social behaviour, and would probably be unable to have a satisfying sexual relationship in the future.
The Child Rights Act
In 2003, Nigeria passed the Child’s Rights Act, giving legal backing to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child and the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child.
The Act seeks to, among other things, protect children’s rights so that they can grow up as healthy as possible, learn in school, be protected, and be treated fairly.
But as Nigeria operates a federal system of government, each state needs to domesticate the law in their territory for it to take effect.
As a result, only 25 of the 36 states in Nigeria have localised the Child’s Rights Act, while 11 states, all in northern Nigeria, are yet to domesticate the Child’s Rights Act. Sadly, even with the localisation of the law 18 years after, sexual abuse of minors, particularly girls, remains rampant in Nigeria. The CRA has been ineffective at curbing such violence against children, with perpetrators often going unpunished.
Apart from the CRA, rape is a criminal offence, both in Nigeria’s criminal code, applicable in the south of the country, and the penal code, applicable in northern Nigeria.
According to Unah, section 282 of the Penal Code Law of Jigawa State criminalises intercourse with a child below the age of 14. It refers to it as rape because such a child cannot give valid consent to sexual intercourse.
Head of Legal Clinical at Women Aid Collective (WACOL), an NGO handling cases related to Gender-Based Violence (GBV), Barrister Ijeoma Ezeude, said that In most cases, parents of victims are quick to opt for settlement because of the non-prosecution of perpetrators.
Raped by her father
In July 2020, after she returned from a church programme in Delta State, *Sandra, in her tradition, asked *Agnes, one of her daughters, if anybody had touched her while she was away. The daughter started crying.
Sandra had left Agnes, who was nine then, and her other children in the company of their dad, Uchenna Ikechukwu.
She married Uchenna after losing her first husband on December 6, 2009. She moved out of his house after discovering he had another family before marrying her. She had two children with her late husband and has four children, including Agnes, with Ikechukwu.
She had rented an uncompleted apartment just close to his compound so they could visit their father occasionally. When they are not with him, he brings them food to eat before they go to school and when they return. He pays their fees.
“I asked her what the problem was, and she said it was a certain boy that beat her up while I was away,” Sandra said. “Unconvinced with the explanation, I told Agnes that the beating was not enough to make her cry deeply. But she insisted”.
One day, as Sandra came out to buy a candle, she saw Agnes standing outside the gate leading to her father’s compound while her siblings were inside with him. One of her neighbours, who had seen Agnes, quickly touched Sandra and advised her to find out from her daughter what she was doing outside when others were with their father.
“I dragged her home and asked her what the problem was and why she was standing outside; she said her dad had been sleeping with her while I was away,” a distraught Sandra said.
She stood stunned. She could not believe her ears.
Escalating to NGO
Two days later, Sandra took the matter to the office of WACOL, and they reported the case to the police, who arrested Ikechukwu. There, he spent three weeks. Later, he was taken to the State Criminal Investigation Department, CID, where he was released without the matter making it to court.
“When I heard that he was released, I was angry because I expected the law to take its course, “said Ezeude, “But I was not surprised because our justice system remains ineffective.”
Ezeude said that apart from the non-implementation of the provisions of the Child Rights Act, guardians or persons in loco parentis are sometimes sceptical about pursuing the children’s cases because of fear of stigmatisation.
“At that stage, our hands are always tied, and even though it is a criminal offence, the Courts may not go further with the case when they realise a prolonged absence of the complainant,” she said.
She, however, noted that a criminal offence, such as rape, ought not to be discontinued even if the complainant is absent in court because it is an offence against the state.
She said that the NGO had recorded several successes between 2020 and 2022 in rescuing victims, giving medical and psychosocial support and writing petitions for the arrest of perpetrators.
“We have over five cases currently in court, but the snail’s pace in the prosecution and conviction of offenders remains a major challenge, “she said. “The delay in the justice system is discouraging, to say the least”.
Now, Sandra is afraid of leaving her daughters with their father. Whenever she wants to travel, she takes Agnes and others to a friend's house, where they will be till she returns.